Many law firms require their partners to make an annual business plan. Not only is this typically a struggle for the partner, it also seems like an ritual annual routine since most of the plans never actually get executed.
The same holds true on a firm level. At any firm partners sit together at an annual retreat or on a practice group level discussing future strategy. Flip-overs are filled with ideas, working groups are formed and action points assigned. Follow up meetings are scheduled. And yet, several months down the line typically nothing has happened.
Even on a more strategic level it is our experience that when discussing strategy with our clients, at some point the managing partner opens a drawer and takes out a meaty strategy document put together five years ago by a reputable consultant at the time. Unfortunately it has remained in that drawer ever since and has never been executed. A huge waste of time and money.
So based on years of experience we know that successful execution of any plan at any law firm is very hard. There is a high risk that plans never get successfully executed at all.
That is why we have put together 5 primers to help you successfully execute and implement any plan:
1. There is no perfect plan Working with lawyers surely the greatest of all dangers when it comes to execution of any plan is perfection. Lawyers are primed to search for excellence and eliminate any risk. Search of perfection is a tried and tested method to postpone decisions infinitely.
Perfection and risk avoidance might be great qualities when it comes to legal advice. When it comes to strategy and business development, they are not so good. In business it is unavoidable that uncharted territory needs to be entered. There will always be uncertainties and unknowns. As Donald Rumsfeld once put it:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.”
This is something that every startup recognizes. Startups take off with often nothing more than an idea. They recognized that it is more important to start than to be perfect. When it comes to execution, noting beats action.
Rule one: accept that the plan is not perfect but start anyway.
2. Keep improving while executing The Japanese have a name for the method of getting better through small continuous improvements: kaizen. When applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees. It is often applied to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, but also applies to strategy or business development.
It is not only important to get started it is equally important to maintain a high pace in execution, learn form every action taken and quickly improve what needs to be improved while taking the next step. Minor imperfections or mistakes should not be considered an issue. They are simply part of the learning curve.
It is generally recognized that the best way to learn is by doing. One could endlessly read books on ‘how to ride a bicycle' and make plans on how one would drive a bicycle and what risks it would bring. Nothing beats stepping on a bike and actually start cycling…
Rule two: execute, evaluate, improve and keep going.
3. The enemy within With any strategy and any business plan, there will always be partners that do not agree. Not agreeing could have principal reasons, they just don’t believe in the strategy, or personal reasons. The latter typically are more dangerous to execution. If partners feel a strategy or a plan is not in their personal best interest they will typically try to derail the execution. Not by openly disagreeing, but by endlessly asking questions.
As it comes to derailment few methods are more effective than asking for additional information, questioning facts and pointing out uncertainties and the risks of unknowns. As these questions and arguments seem very reasonable they appeal to the other partners. Failing to recognize the nature of this type of ‘reasonable’ questions might halt execution infinitely.
Rule three: identify and ignore ‘the enemy within’
4. Ownership The execution of any plan is not the responsibility of the managing partner, the practice group head or the working group or committee chair. As much as most partners would like to delegate the responsibility for execution to management and leadership, reality is that each partner needs to take ownership.
For successful execution of any strategy or business development plan it is key that every partners feels personally responsible and takes full ownership
Rule four: each partner should take personal ownership
5. The 10-minute rule The fifth and last rule is not to be too ambitious and not to make things too complicated. We have learned from experience that when you ask any partner to do things that will take more than 10 minutes daily, it will never happen. Tasks that are not perceived as clear, simple, quick and doable will be infinitely postponed till tomorrow. That ‘tomorrow’ will never come. So break everything up in small and simple steps.
Rule five: keep it simple, stick to the 10-minute rule
At TGO Consulting we don’t want to sell plans that will remain in your drawer. Plans only have value when executed. We design plans that will help transform lawyers and law firms. Proper execution in the end is more important than the plan or strategy itself. We help law firms to get ready for tomorrow’s market.